Category Archives: Society

I’ve Been Here Before…

One criticism I should level at myself is that I don’t do enough thought-blogging, by which I mean transferring current, unrefined thoughts to the blogosphere. Perhaps it’s my background in scientific study which puts great emphasis on critical analysis, accuracy and referencing. Everything must be referenced, although this could be said of academic writing generally. This is good and necessary when it comes to academia, bad when it comes to opinion pieces and artistic originality. Ok, so I’ve identified my achilles heel and I will make an attempt to be more spontaneous!

With regards to the title of the post: I’ve definitely been here before. In a temporal sense rather than a physical one. On the verge of something else, something undefined as of yet. I’ve given notice at work, a place I’ve been employed mostly part-time for since the beginning of Feb. I took 9 days off over Easter to visit friends and family and South Africa, otherwise I’ve been there every other working day to date. I feel a teeny-weeny bit proud of the fact I do. And I’ve covered for Phil for perhaps 2 weeks cumulative leave which involved some level of responsibility I guess. The job: working in warehouse. I dispatch motors and such stuff by packing it into boxes and on palettes. Nothing mind-blowing but with some pros. Firstly I only have to answer directly to Phil. Phil is cool. He listens to Frank Zappa and does mushrooms (not at work I must stress!). He’s actually a conscientious old fart, despite his apparent nonchalance. If he doesn’t have the day’s orders packed and the manifest printed by the time the couriers arrive mid-afternoon he gets a bit cranky. I’ve never seen him lose his cool with anyone but he has a grumble and that’s ok. He’s never taken anything out on me. At best he makes a tactful suggestion when I cock something up. I’m no dummy but I’m liable to be distracted at times and forget details: ticking a box here, submitting a form there. That sort of thing. Phil lives by a simple principle in life: be honest. He always tells his wife when he intends to go on a jolly and if something or someone is bothering him he verbalises it.

So why am I leaving the job? Because I’m bored; because I think I’m selling myself short; because I’m not happy in my personal life; because I don’t have a personal life. It also happens that it’s a family company. My boss (a relative through marriage to a cousin of mine) has his ex, two of his sons, his eldest son’s wife and now my cousin all working in various positions. Another son is at college being lined up for a future role. I don’t have any problem with this in principle (I would be a hypocrite if I did) except that my cousin is soon to take up a rather senior position which I think she’s completely unsuited too (she’s a hairdresser by trade). I suppose it’s a form of nepotism which has been relatively benign until now but is in danger of causing damage, if it hasn’t already done so. the former Ops Manager left because of this apparently, and I’ve just learnt that the accountant is also leaving. I don’t know his reason but it’s just a hunch I have. Anyway enough of that.

You want to know more about my personal life? Like I told you, I don’t have one! Do I have to elaborate? Ok ok. No juicy gossip but a few thoughts. One theme this year has been rejection. It’s not nice as some you may well know. My feelings in this department are directed towards a certain Polish lady who I had an intimate relationship with last year, severed ties, got back together with briefly, became ‘best friends’ with, and then fell out with before becoming the pitiful object of rejection. Truth be told, in that grey area between being with someone and not being with them, it seems there was very little room to manoeuvre. Deep down I know what I want: If I am not going to have the advantage of being the rejector, I would at least like to part on good terms, and by good I suppose I would settle for a definition of ‘without malice’. I think I have run out of opportunities. She is uncompromising. What is the lesson in this? It’s one you have probably heard before i.e. get to know someone before you start having sex. Sex complicates things. In hindsight we were not well matched.

I am glad of a few things this year, however. Apart from the stores job I have also earned about £1500 as an agency worker doing some truly dull jobs at some truly unsociable hours. One involved making compressed polystyrene products in a small factory running antiquated injection-moulding equipment. It was repetitive work but it helped ease me through the initial despondency of the rejection I talked about. That was late last year. I was assured of work in the new year but it never materialised. I never did feel completely safe around those heaving, steaming, temperamental machines anyhow. Rob, who had worked there longest, wasn’t very reassuring. One of them had blown a panel or a hose off with enough force to kill someone a few months earlier. Fortunately no one had been standing close to it at the time.

Another agency job earlier in the year was as a cleaner at a large bakery. It involved waking at 2am and slopping detergents into toilets, floors and other surfaces, mopping, vacuuming and sweeping. I admired anyone who was prepared to do that for more than two weeks. My mainstay of the agency work has however been as a parcel sorter. It’s work I had done a few years before in Bristol as a stopgap. Most of the shifts run from early morning, 0300 until 0700/0800. Once again it’s the monotony of it which gets to me. There are always a few blokes who make it a bit more bearable but who would really want to do that ad infinitum? Ironically the shift pays the minimum wage which is less than the hourly wage I was getting paid for night work in Bristol back in 2010!

But before I lose my audience and my point, I have to admit that there is a value to this: the people who do these jobs – the packing, sorting, cleaning and so forth – are the cogs that make the economic machinery turn. I think it’s important not to lose sight of this. Doing this sort of work from time to time is a good way to stay grounded and if not humble, at least a little more grateful for the day job. But perhaps most importantly it allows one to debate and discuss from the perspective of a participant. Yes I have seen capitalist Britain creaking at the seams, her native workforce disgruntled, and not necessarily without reason. The working conditions are sometimes shoddy and this culture of efficiency without accountability quite frankly sucks. Sadly, as an educated person, I can see how the system is geared towards maintaining a certain status quo. It scared the hell out of me a few years ago when my prospects were not looking good in the skilled sector. I have no excuse now after liquidating my assets in Africa, but I still feel vulnerable. I know I need to train in something that will cushion me against the buffeting winds of uncertainty the future always brings.

Now to temper these deep thoughts with anecdote! The title of the post is pertinent in another respect as well. I came to be where I am now, Bournemouth, via several other UK towns and cities, following the work or the prospect thereof. Well that was the general trend. In this instance I came to look after my nephew who is technically a cousin once-removed, but due to the age difference (35 versus 12), in a personal sense much more of a nephew.

What I like about Bournemouth is ironically the little bit that I actually likes about Luton: its diversity. I was living in Ringwood initially but now I live in the town proper and get to mix with a broad spectrum of nationalities. What I didn’t expect was to bump into Frazer! Rewind 15 years to a smokey pub in Harare, Zimbabwe (there were only three or so). There’s me, Frazer and some English guy who was about to return home (he may or may not have rekindled his relationship with his GF but he was going to give it a bash) sitting round a small table with pint glasses of lager in various stages of consumption strewn across it. Frazer was also of English origins but he’d been at high school (secondary) with me for as long as I could remember. Something about his dad moving over to run a security firm. I liked Frazer because he was gentle and unconventional. Most of the guys I went to school with seemed to feel the need to emulate American mannerisms and machismo and were just generally loud. I don’t remember particularly enjoying St Georges College because I felt like a misfit. Frazer was also something of a misfit so not surprisingly we came to hang in the same small group of geeks and quieter sorts. We used to assemble against an outer side-wall of the school chapel even when I was made a school prefect and could have sat in our exclusive common room with the rest of the feds.

So, as I was saying, Frazer and I were sitting in this bar in Harare a few years AFTER leaving school in ’98. I had finished phase I of university after returning prematurely (family issues) and was working at some audio-hire place in town. Naturally I had hooked up with Frazer when I found he was still there. What were we talking about? Buddhist philosophy and/or new age mumbo was part of it. I don’t lump the two together because I know very little about Buddhism but I think even back then Frazer was gravitating towards Eastern beliefs. I remember the English guy turning to me at some point late in the evening and telling me what he thought about Frazer’s notions on the ‘flower of life’ and that sort of thing. ‘He’s talking like a pot-head’ I remember him saying. The truth is that Frazer was a stoner. Later that evening or a subsequent evening I went back to his place where he had an enormous bag full of dried cannabis leaves. I think he told me that his gardener had grown them out back which was not unheard of. My very first joint (there haven’t been many to be honest) was smoked with Frazer. I got a serious case of ‘the greens’ on that occasion. I remember it well. Do not mix booze and nicotine and/or THC. Why have I never learnt that lesson properly? Not long after that Frazer literally dropped off the planet and I went back t uni. No-one knew what had become of the man and he remained mysteriously absent from all social media sites: Facebook, G+, Skype etc. None of our mutual friends from school were any the wiser either.

So fast forward to the present, or approximately 6 or 7 weeks back. The place: Boots Pharmacy, Bournemouth Town Centre. I was there to collect a prescription for a course of antibiotics prescribed my dentist for some pretty hectic toothache. You know what’s coming next. Yup, that’s right. I bumped into none other than that old dope-head Frazer. Except that he looked at me and just kept walking. There was no reunion then and there but it did prompt me to look him up in the local directory. When we did meet up properly I discovered that it was most definitely Frazer. He had given up the booze, cigarettes and dope but he was still the dreamy-eyed wanderer that I recalled from Zimbabwe. Now he practises yoga and follows a Buddhist lifestyle so far as possible. His life has mirrored mine to some degree. Loss of his mother in the early 2000’s as happened to me and some estrangement from his father (other woman/women, just like mine!). it was apparent that there had been some difficult times, some challenging times. Another development was that his health had also failed him a little. He had been diagnosed with MS which had affected his vision. I had to forgive him for not recognising me in Boots. He doesn’t have a paid job although he does voluntary work and I can only assume he gets some sort of government disability/ill-health benefit. Like me he’s not in a relationship but he seems to be very close to an older English lady, a divorcee he met whilst living in Malta. Like I said earlier, I felt like we’ve been here before…

Mmmmm, I could honestly keep on writing but I don’t want this to turn into a book. No, honestly, I do the memoir thing because I think I have a good memory for recollection. Who else has had a similar experience? Losing touch with someone only to discover them years later somewhere completely unexpected? Please share if you will.

Herewith a picture of Frazer in a very apt location:

Frazer, not quite at his house, but not far from it. In another sense this is the town where he grew up so yes indeed, The House of Fraser. It was interesting to learn that his name is spelt with an ‘s’ on his birth certificate and a ‘z’ in his passport!
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A memoir of 3 years in the UK

So I’ve written a memoir and not, I hasten to add, an autobiography! As a friend of mine remarked, “isn’t it a bit early for that sort of thing?” Well quite. All the same it has been quite an interesting couple of years, primarily in England, but punctuated by two trips back to Africa. This is the main narrative time-frame, although I talk of events further back where they tie into present experience.

What inspired me to write this memoir? Several different strands of thought really. Firstly, I am predisposed towards writing anecdotes and commentary, but that hardly makes me stand out now does it?! Still, it wasn’t a huge extrapolation to start joining the blogs, commentary and photographic record into a coherent whole. I would like to call myself a travel writer. Perhaps not in the conventional understanding of the title, but all the same someone who qualifies by virtue of having traveled beyond their sphere of familiarity. But the essence of it is that I have had a great desire to seek an understanding of the world at large, more for my peace of mind than any other reason.

Like many first time writers I imagine, I suffered from a premature dose of enthusiasm and imagined that to get published was just a matter of finding the right publisher and selling my story to them. With any luck they would take charge of the nitty-gritty bits: proof-reading and editorial stuff, typesetting, marketing etc. I ran the usual gamut of publishers recommended by the Artists and Writers Yearbook, emailing sample chapters, synopses and cover-letters in the main but also printing off a few copies and physically mailing them to literary agents of a more traditional inclination. As the weeks and months dragged out I was to come to realise two things. Firstly, traditional publishing pf the sort I have just outlined is difficult. Secondly, memoirs are not half as enticing to the majority of publishers as other forms of literature, fiction being the biggest seller and crime fiction in particular. Actually, a perusal of the shelves of one of the established bookstores – Waterstones or WH Smith – will suggest that life-stories do sell. The only prerequisite is that one has to be famous in some regard: a man or woman of considerable sporting prowess or a pop-star being two obvious ones. I am neither. Thus I did not find myself a publisher but I did discover the world of self-publishing.

The accessibility of the platforms for self-publishing online through the likes of  Lulu.com and Amazon’s KDP have transformed the market by making publishing accessible to everyone. Although this might result in a lowering of editorial standards at least it gives people like me a channel to print and distribute our tales. The print-on-demand facility offered by online publishers like Lulu is a boon, but digital publishing is probably the biggest innovation. Still, one can’t do everything from writing to publishing completely independently and without outside review. I was lucky to have had the editorial input of Judy Brown, a competent proof-reader, who accepted my ridiculously low project tender through the site Freelancer.co.uk. I wasn’t in a position to offer any more than I offered but she did a thorough job all the same. To any aspiring author out there I say this: make it your first and foremost objective to find a good and honest proof-reader to assess your manuscript once you have finished writing it. He or she will do it the world of good not just through correcting grammar and punctuation, but by suggesting where you could say things more concisely, explore a particular idea further or simply to suggest what might be a bias on your part that needs to be reappraised.

That said I will return to the matter of the memoir itself. Once complete, or nearly so, there was the need to decide on a title. After some consideration I decided on one – A Fairly Honest Account of a White African’s Life Abroad. When I first published in July 2012 this was the title of my book. In part I was inspired by the fairly recent TV documentary on the plight of a white Zimbabwean farmer and his family, Mugabe and the White African. Something about the stoic struggles of the White African appealed to my vanity. All the same I was dogged by a sense of doubt. Did something really mark me out as a White African? Did I have a particular identity by virtue of having been brought up in Africa of ethnically European parents? I was after all born in the UK and actually of mixed Western and Mediterranean European ethnicity. I decided that the term was too divisive and ambiguous, with echoes of the past, and I therefore decided to change it several months later. The revised title I decided upon was Between Two Worlds: The Account of a Jet-Setting Vagrant. I won’t elaborate any further without pasting in my synopsis, as I wrote it for my book in the Amazon bookstore. As follows:

This is a personal, insightful and sometimes entertaining recollection of the author’s adventures and nomadic life in the UK as well as two periods in that other world of his upbringing, Southern Africa. 

Born in Britain to Rhodesian parents at the end of that country’s tumultuous civil war he was raised in a fairly peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe. The narrative journey encompasses not only the present but the past. He does his best to make an objective assessment of modern Britain whilst elaborating on just what Zimbabwe (and South Africa) means to him, and the conflicting senses of identity and purpose in the homeland of his heart of which he is no longer a citizen.

In his quest for answers on his travels through the UK he surveys the cultural and political landscape of England today, revisits his birthplace in Ealing, and traverses the southwest of England in search of work. Circumstance draws him to his estranged uncle’s abode in the coastal city of Plymouth where the past and present collide unexpectedly.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fairly-Honest-Account-Africans-ebook/dp/B008NAU7VG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1353331975&sr=1-1

I will endeavour to publish my introduction and a sample chapter or two on this blog to give the potential reader a taste of the book. I hasten to add that the book is most likely to appeal to those of a similar background to me: raised in Zimbabwe, although not necessarily white, and living or having lived in the UK and/or South Africa for a period of time. Furthermore, if I have to be honest I would say that the overall tone of the book is reflective rather than jocular or entertaining. I wouldn’t recommend you reading it if you don’t have an interest in history or delving into the human predicament. If this sounds too deep and introspective, fear not. Most of the book is about anecdotal experience and there is some humour too… I think!

A paperback version is also available though Lulu self-publishing (I am currently reviewing  a hard copy in order to approve it for affiliate distribution i.e. Apple bookstore, B&N) and another ebook (in EPUB format). See my author spotlight for links to the book: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leopassi

Here is preview of the revised cover, as designed by Kamil Pawlik, an independent Polish designer I crowd-sourced:

Between Two Worlds: The Account of a Jet-Setting Vagrant
Between Two Worlds: The Account of a Jet-Setting Vagrant